Messaging …

Every now and again, there are those instances in the forums space where discussion crops up that requires repetition here. One such instance at this time is a discussion on ScarletNation.com and specifically the “Rutgers Issues” board. While the site is primarily for the D1 athletics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, this board is always interesting because of the depth of commentary about what is going on around campus. In this case, the discussion began regarding an article found in the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding the benefit of Rutgers as a haven for one gay student.

A poster commented:

What irks me is that when PSU covers up Sandusky or when UNC has professors giving athletes credit for not going to class, no one says anything…but Hermann says the SL should shut down, and she’s worse than Aaron Hernandez…

I just wish more within our community would acknowledge the agenda and the University would take it more head on. Laughing off the recording of JH was a start, but there did seem to be a “miscommunication” of some kind with commencement. 

My comment, I thought, was innocuous enough:

I agree totally. The agenda is obvious from NJ.com and in the media sources in New Jersey.

The “miscommunication” regarding Eric’s standing within the program speaks volumes as to the problem that has been experienced over the years. When there is a contact to be made regarding an event, it is imperative that the Office, Department, or organization running the event designates one person who is to be the contact for all information regarding the event. No one else to speak about the event or the standing of a person who will be part of the event.

However, do keep in mind that, historically, Rutgers – and by extension many of the people who have been involved with the University – has always attempted to stay out of the limelight and apart from the broader aspects of society. When it was forced to become an instrumentality of the State in 1956, administration, staff, faculty, students, alumni, donors, and “friends” were ill-prepared to work with the constant political machinations that go on in politics and the probing of people on the outside with marginal or no understanding of how the University functions.

But perhaps the biggest problem for Rutgers has been how to work with media in a forward-facing “universitywide” approach. I have said this for decades now. The most critical aspect of media relations is for the University to speak with “one voice.” Hence, there should be only one spokesperson for the University on the academic side (E.J. Miranda) and one spokesperson on the athletics side (Jason Baum). If anyone else is quoted, they damn well better have proof they were given permission to be quoted from either the president or Chancellor/Vice-president who directly oversees their department. If not, that person is to be canned immediately.

Media Relations and Communications has waxed and waned over the course of the last 40+ years in their effort. Under Mason Gross, it was a flat-out disaster. Under Bloustein, it was better early on and then fell to pieces in the late 80’s. Under Lawrence, it was middling okay. McCormick finally made the effort to tighten things up. With Barchi, stuff is slipping through the cracks way way too easily. What frustrates me about this is how willingly Greg Trevor is willing to let that happen. In media relations, it should not matter if you have Matt Drudge and Becky Quick in leadership positions or two first-year students, the Office of Media Relations and Communications should be so tightly run that the message being presented to the larger world is clear, distinctive, with brevity, but most importantly, consistent! Jason has made the effort to do that with Athletics. I still do not see that with the academic, administrative, and research side. 

Equally important, please keep in mind there is a marked difference between what the University Voice states and the opinions of people from the various publics who are constantly spouting off on message boards such as these and elsewhere. Too often what is being stated is not university policy or the official University statement on the issue by these individuals. Rather, it is their opinions that do not have basis in fact or confirmation of standing based on research. To these people, I heartily encourage them to actually do their research and be certain to include links to official websites that will actually confirm and support what they are stating. If, in fact, they do have a difference of opinion from the officially stated line, be the adult and actually connect within the University to convey your thoughts inwardly. Do not blather away in opposition, thus creating a perception of divisiveness that can be harped upon by the outside media. 

Another poster stated:

MKollar, what you propose is unrealistic. No matter who much an institution stresses to its employees that “you should refer all inquiries to the proper individuals,” leaks happen anyway. Some employees may have their own agendas. Some may disagree with the “official version.”   Universities have the special problem that  tenured and tenure-track professors can say what they like and can’t be punished for it. Nor can students be punished. Rutgers does need to control the message better,  but there’s a limit to what the university can do. It helps when the university makes sound decisions that can attract support among the rank and file. Rutgers, though, doesn’t seem so good at this.

Poster #1 replied

mkollar

I think you raise some good points. I do recall plenty of media snafus during McC’s tenure, such as when his affair was revealed, and he didn’t do a real great job responding to Clementi, Snooki or Rutgersfest situations- and those were before twitter really took off to what it is now. He also allowed Mulcahey to take the fall for what was entirely a drummed up story by the SL.

The problem is these days with Twitter, the national media catches on faster. The Rice thing was bad- but not Sandusky bad- but the SL gave it near equivalence. And the University really didn’t respond well to small blips with JH, EJ, and Tyree after. 

If god forbid something like Sandusky happened here, the SL would probably barricade the door to Scott Hall personally. The vendetta against the school is mindboggling.

As for JH, I support her comments. She’s right. The SL pretty much has it out for the school- they are what Fox News is to Obama if Fox News demanded Obama fired his entire cabinet, and then went onto praise Kim Jong Un as a model of democracy, like SL recommends NJ students still consider PSU. 

Sometimes you have to remind yourself it’s not a movie or TV show. 

Poster #2 then stated,

Let me intersperse replies in parentheses. (sorry for not being smart enough to bold-face NIRh”s mind)

I think you raise some good points. I do recall plenty of media 
snafus during McC’s tenure, such as when his affair was revealed, 

(that wasn’t a media snafu. That was a McCormick snafu! (as was his drinking.)  If you have an extramarital affair, it’s going to get out. The best “media strategy” is to keep your hands off other women if you are married..)

and he didn’t do a real great job responding to Clementi, Snooki or Rutgersfest situations- and those were before twitter really took off to what it is now. 

(Not sure what he could have said about any of those other than what he did. All three were complete black eyes;)

He also allowed Mulcahey to take the fall for what was entirely a drummed up story by the SL.

(this is not my understanding. My understanding, corroborated by several people who would know, is that Mulcahy was spending money and not telling the central administration about it. That’s going to get you fired in any organization.)

The problem is these days with Twitter, the national media catches on faster. The Rice thing was bad- but not Sandusky bad- but the SL gave it near equivalence. And the University really didn’t respond well to small blips with JH, EJ, and Tyree after. 

(Amazing you would say that. The Star-Ledger is a New Jersey newspaper.  Of course it’s going to jump on a New Jersey story more heavily than on a story from central Pennsylvania. )

If god forbid something like Sandusky happened here, the SL would probably barricade the door to Scott Hall personally. The vendetta against the school is mindboggling.

(I do not believe there is a vendetta. Rather, Rutgers makes the critical error of committing blunders that sell newspapers. I don’t think *any* newspaper, except one not worthy of the name, would do anything but jump on Rutgers.)

As for JH, I support her comments. She’s right. The SL pretty much has it out for the school- they are what Fox News is to Obama if Fox News demanded Obama fired his entire cabinet, and then went onto praise Kim Jong Un as a model of democracy, like SL recommends NJ students still consider PSU. 

(It’s not the S-L’s job to do cheerleading for Rutgers. Its job, as one famous newspaperman said, is to print the news and raise hell. And no matter how correct JH’s comments were, she was a damn fool for making them, particularly in a forum where there was guaranteed to be a leak. Anyone with half a brain would know that journalism students would call any contacts they had in the professional media. That’s an example of a self-inflicted black eye.)

Foregoing the responses to Poster #2 by #1, I felt it necessary to clarify a few points,

Without question, freedom of speech and the right to speak openly and frankly regarding opinions are absolutely sacrosanct. Faculty and students speaking or writing about research or writing content for articles on any topic related to their area of study is certainly acceptable. Likewise, if they have an opposing viewpoint to University policy or wish to express dissatisfaction with a decision made by the University administration, they are certainly welcome to state what they want. But, it needs to be made clear they are speaking exclusively for themselves and not for the University in any capacity.

My issue is with those in administration and the differentiation that needs to be made between when a departmental administrator (dean, faculty chair, etc.) who is also a faculty member is attempting to speak for the University or claim to “speak for the faculty” under that title. Likewise, all – and by all I refer to everyone from a Custodial Agent III to the president – need to clearly understand they do not have any authority to speak on any topic unless specifically conveyed through prior written authorization. 

The reality is that the AAUP/AFT unions make it adamantly clear that only the spokesperson for the union speaks for the union. Moreover, only those faculty or staff who are made available to the press are done so with very specific scripted comments in relation to a topic. That same approach needs to be taken by the University.

Poster #2 follows up with,

You’re certainly right that only the University can speak for the University. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that others within the University will give their own account of what Rutgers is doing, and why it is doing it. There’s no way to prevent that. And the media person is free to imply that their accounts are more correct than the “official version.” After all, do you believe Obama necessarily when he says that we are doing X for reason Y. Others are free to say, “no really Obama is doing A for reason B.” That’s just part of the journalistic process.

My comment was,

Actually, there is a way to address this… and there always has been. The University must provide a clear, definitive narrative that is based in fact and reference, not opinion, to all involved in the event or situation. It continues to humor me that we, as a research university, are still tone deaf to this quality form of media relations.

Certainly there are many in media – a la Steve Politi – who want to imply they know more. All the more, it needs to be the responsibility of Media Relations at the University to debunk those claims with facts and references, not the simpering BS we’ve wallowed in and certainly not the “You’re not right because I say so” lines of certain others. “Journalistic Process” as it is understood in the field is hardly being shown today. Over the last 30 years it has been rare to find the tenets that Pew Research throws around in their “Principles of Journalism.” Instead, we continue to get the manifold opinion pieces masquerading as “in-depth analysis.”

Ultimately, Media Relations – and by extension the Office of the Chancellors overseeing the aspects of the University involved – have a demonstrable responsibility to ensure that the message being delivered is not based on opinion or personal points of view. It needs to be based in fact. Part of that effort – in fact most of that effort – involves making certain that everyone at the University is on the same page and clearly aware of all aspects of the situation being discussed. Whether, for example, it is a member of the custodial crew setting up the chairs for commencement, faculty in attendance, or the commencement speakers, all need to be made clearly aware of the person to whom they are to refer questions to and the specific information – topic, content, and citations – that will be of value to them. In turn, this provides the Office of Media Relations and Communications the way to clearly distinguish the facts they are providing from the opinions that others wish to state along with the sufficient basis to flak them where there is clear error or outright intentional lies. 

Without question the University does not have any standing to fire someone for stating their opinion. Likewise, there is the reality that the University does have every right to terminate those who undermine the standing of the University after intentionally providing or stating lies after having been provided clear information that details the facts and includes reference sources that confirm the same.

Poster #2 replies,

In an organization this large, particularly in a university, there is no way to have everyone on the same page. Some people just plain will  not believe the university’s spokespersons. There are, for instance, matters on which I believe the University’s spokepersons (including Big Bob Barchi) misstate reality, and that’s putting it nicely.   And I am far from the only one. There is no effective way to keep folks like me from talking to the press and giving *our* versions of reality, and our opinions of what the University is doing and why it is doing it.

In addition, Poster #1 states,

I’m really not worried about professors speaking outside of Killingsworth and the rest of the RU10. But if the SL insists on talking to them, be sure to point out he goes to Michigan games actively so the hypocrite that he is is evident.

The problem is more that the SL makes a narrative and uses “stories” to fit the narrative, not blabbering from within. 

My comment to Poster #2 is rather blunt,

While I appreciate your POV, there is a simple reality that explodes this myth: Other Big Ten, Pac14, SEC, and ACC schools. Placement of people on the same page across the organization begins and ends with a clearly stated set of goals and objectives that orients all publics – employees (administration, faculty, staff), consumers (students, interested outside entities), and supporters (alumni, friends, donors, contractors) to the mission and purpose of the organization. 

That has already been instilled on the academic side at Rutgers with the “Jersey Roots. Global Reach.” campaign. It continues with the University Mission found at http://www.rutgers.edu/about-rutgers/university-mission and is placed on a firm foundation with much more in-depth content in the Strategic Plan defined for all at http://universitystrategy.rutgers.edu. Bluntly, if you are an employee of the organization, these are the three most critical elements of what should be driving your efforts to support and advance the University. If you are at odds with these elements, you really need to have done some major research to prove what is wrong with them, not just that you don’t like or agree with them. We all know that positions based in fact and research will always be more readily accepted  specifically because it shows there is research to back it up. Those who want their opinion are welcome to it. But unless there is proof you cheapen your own position and, ultimately, render your voice mute and discounted within the historical discussion while those who ascribe to University Message are accepted and advance.

Poster #1 received this,

Exactly! However, I will say Mark Killingsworth is already failing at his own messaging as he is unwilling to accept the reality of the reductions of subsidies that have already taken place. The insistence of the SL to cobble together words to fit their “story” becomes the downfall of the paper when the University is fully able to point out for the rest of the world exactly how fallacious the “story” is relative to the actual facts. However, it is mission critical for the Office of Media Relations and Communications to ensure the PRs that do go out for each topic, situation or event are clear, brief, with quality researched facts that ensure a quality message as well. From time to time I still see that slipping.

I am sure this is going to continue, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless to present a chronology of what is going on.

 

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About VigilantKnight

Living life on my terms.
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